At this point in March, no game comes easily. The Gonzaga Bulldogs dug down deep when the Florida State Seminoles mounted the comeback and held off for a 72-58 win, punching their ticket to the Elite Eight for the third time in five years.
Let that sink in. Gonzaga is playing in the Elite Eight for the third time in five years.
The first five minutes of the game presented a borderline post-apocalyptic version of basketball. Gonzaga took a whopping 6-3 lead as the two teams battled it out on the defensive end, not allowing a single decent scoring opportunity to rear its ugly head. Who likes points anyway?
The Zags were able to collect two quick fouls on Florida State giant Mfiondu Kabangele, sending him to the bench for the majority of the first half. From there on out, the Zags worked their offense methodically, stretching the lead to 11 and entering half time at 38-27.
Of course, when the broadcast picked right on back up, the first ESPN nugget of truth was the only time Gonzaga has lost when leading by more than 11 points at half was against UCLA in 2006. THANKS ESPN. It fit right in with the preponderance of the commentary, which tended to focus on how good FSU is (was) and nothing else.
That isn’t without cause either. FSU mounted a brutal comeback, led by Trent Forrest (who would lead all scorers with 20 points) and pulled the Seminoles within four points, 60-56, with four minutes remaining. Flashes of UCLA danced throughout our heads.
But, this team isn’t the 2006 team. Zach Norvell wasn’t having any of that nonsense, however, drilling what would be the dagger three to respond.
Josh Perkins, who weathered the intense defensive pressure of the Seminoles the whole game, was an absolute general during the waning minutes of the game. When everything was teetering on the edge, the Zags, rather than playing with panic, played with poise. Remember all y’all folks out there who constantly say Perkins can’t deliver when it matters? Watch this game again every time you need a reminder.
Perk was one of four Gonzaga starters to score in double figures, showcasing how hard it is to truly stop this team. Rui Hachimura led the team with 17 points, joined by Brandon Clarke with 15, and Zach Norvell and Perkins with 14.
At no point was the game pretty, no one was expecting it that way. The Zags only finished with 11 assists during the game and turned the ball over 14 times. The biggest factor was the defense, surprisingly. While the offense struggled to get going, the defense held the ship completely tight.
It was an effort that was probably on par with the 2017 squad. The screen rotations were crisp. Florida State got very few easy shots off, finishing shooting 40.3 percent from the floor. The Seminoles were lauded for their defense coming in, but it was the Zags who were able to dictate that end of the floor.
Most impressively, Gonzaga out-rebounded Florida State 45-36. The Seminoles are supposed to the uber-athletic and lengthy team here. On the floor, the Zags won with hustle.
Credit to the Seminoles for giving us a game, because we need to remember that nothing easy comes in March. At least, for the next 48 hours, we get to dance. Let’s savor that feeling for a bit.